LEADERS AND ENTREPRENEURS: A Conversation with COLT Grill Owner Brenda Clouston

Successful people in the Verde Valley come from all walks of life, but they all have certain traits in common. In our new series LEADERS & ENTREPRENEURS, we talk to those who have risen to prominence about the attributes that work for them in their field. Today we chat with restaurateur Brenda Clouston, who created a series of COLT Grill restaurants.

Q. What makes Colt Grill special? What is your unique offer to the communities you serve?

A. We are what is known in the BBQ world as an “authentic smokehouse”, but we look like a cozy country restaurant/bar. Almost everything on the menu is handmade, from scratch, and smoked over hard oak wood on an authentic steel smokehouse. It’s a lot more effort to work this way, but you can taste the difference in every delicious bite. We recently won “Best Restaurant” in Prescott Valley for the third year in a row and have been voted “Best BBQ in Yavapai County” multiple times, all thanks to the hard work of our staff.

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Q. What helped prepare you to become a business owner?

A. I developed endurance and discipline in 4-H, high school and college sports. Moreover, I am part of a long line of entrepreneurs; you learn not to give up when it’s hard – to keep pushing and to think long term.

Q. Why did you choose the locations you chose for your restaurants?

A. We have family nearby in Cottonwood and Prescott, and there was nothing like COLT in the areas where we opened.

Q. What is special about the communities you serve or makes you a good fit for them?

A. Each community has a different heartbeat, but they are all quite similar. They love the outdoors, animals and homemade food! We love our people; they are like family to our staff. Together, we celebrate their joys and support them in their struggles. They are quite passionate about their individual COLT sites and they constantly tell me which one is their favorite! All communities seem to enjoy the relaxed, country atmosphere, home-cooked food, friendly staff, and price.

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Q. How do you balance work and personal life? What keeps you sane?

A. I have a few things that work for me. I’m pretty disciplined about my time. I turn off my phone and television and sleep eight hours a night. I’m not into social media and instead call my friends and family. I’m obsessed with the outdoors so when I’m done at my desk I go hiking, horseback riding or playing with my grandsons; which is so satisfying! When I started out in the business, I didn’t have the luxury of having “free” time. My family worked almost around the clock for several years, so any “time off” is now an incredible blessing.

Q. What is your favorite style of music?

A. I really like a lot of different genres, but my favorite is country: a mix of classics and new Nashville hits. Add some blue grass too!

Q. If I got in your car with you, what would you play on the radio?

A. Haha! I love this question! I would play SiriusXM’s The Highway and No Shoes radio stations and local FM country stations, KVRD and KOLT country. If I had a stressful day, I would listen to piano music. You would also find me listening to some kind of audiobook. I just finished “The Boys in the Boat,” about the American team that won gold at Hitler’s 1936 Olympics; what a fantastic story!

Q. Who inspired and/or influenced you as an entrepreneur?

A. My grandmother was a ranch woman who was both strong and loving. She seemed to handle anything thrown at her. She raised six boys, could kill a chicken with her bare hands, and somehow brought these incredible feasts to the table three times a day! Additionally, I draw inspiration from real-life heroes from books and movies – especially those from the Depression era – who overcame dire circumstances such as Joe Rantz’s “The Boys in the Boat”, “Unbroken” by Louie Zamporini and Red Pollard and “Seabiscuit” by Tom White.

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Q. What advice would you give to someone starting out in the restaurant business?

A. To be honest, I would advise them to wait for this economy to change. It’s very difficult right now for restaurants. Beyond that, only open a restaurant if you have plenty of resources, are experienced in the industry, and are mentally strong. You also need to be creative to keep finding ways to bring your product to market in ways that customers will choose you over your competition and come back to you.

Q. What plans do you have for your business for the future?

A. I am concerned right now about energy prices, food shortages and other attributes of this difficult economy. However, if circumstances become more favorable, I would like to expand into other areas. Everyday guests tell us – with great enthusiasm – to open a COLT in “their” condition and I have my eye on some of them. But, for now, we’ll have to wait and see.

Cindy Cole is a freelancer for The Independent. She is a writer, editor, photographer and artist. Contact her at cindycole@live.com.


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